Let’s start with this.
FC Karpaty Lviv fans in Ukraine
BBC Report On Football Racism in Poland and Ukraine
Finally, give this a read.
When UEFA (The Union of European Football Associations, the governing body of the game in Europe) decided to host the 2012 European Football Championships in Poland and Ukraine, the thought of bringing Eastern Europe to the forefront seemed overdue; the 1976 tournament, which was hosted in the then-Yugoslavia, is the only time the Euros have been hosted outside of Western Europe. In an organization where the politics of self-righteousness trump common sense, an organization driven by the despotic, almost whimsical, decision-making of deeply flawed individuals, the shortsighted choice of Poland and Ukraine was never going to be addressed with any sense of realism. Just look at the horrible political situation in Ukraine; the jailing, beating and hunger strike of politician Yulia Tymoshenko, their horrible record on gay rights, and on and on. But politics and sport should never mix, amirite? Sure.
And so, with the Euros opening and reports circulating that a real fascist, racist threat exists in many of the host cities, UEFA are turning the tables on the concerns about racism, taking a philosophical approach to the issue it was so eager to make the centerpiece of its identity just a few short months ago.
UEFA President and former star for France, Michel Platini, in his own words:
Platini dismissed suggestions his reputation would be tarnished if there is racial abuse at Euro 2012.
“Are you joking? You think I am responsible for the racists in the rest of Europe or in England or in France?” he said.
Platini said UEFA had done a lot to tackle racism, backing such initiatives as Never Again, but said he was “not responsible for society”.
He added: “Society is not so easy. You have some problems and we have to organize these Euros from the beginning with some problems because these two countries never welcome so big an event in the past.
“It was a big challenge for Poland, big challenge for Ukraine, a big challenge for UEFA, and we have done our best.
“It is not just a fact only in Poland and Ukraine. You can go in France, United States, in England and you will find the problem of racism.
Well, good enough then. It’s hard, it’s a big deal, everyone’s trying. Well done, Michel.
There is racism everywhere, but it is rarely institutionalized within a sporting culture as it is within football, especially in a Europe that is facing radical demographic and political changes. One of the massive failures of UEFA and FIFA in addressing racism among the fans of its game is that they instead have focused attention on creating an illusion of racial harmony among the players, doing very little to change the attitudes in the stands. FIFA President Sepp Blatter, the leader of the organization that governs world football, has set an horrific example for the game through his own lighthearted statements about the problems of discrimination in the game. Let’s run his greatest hits, shall we?
In 2004, the FIFA president said women players should ‘wear tighter shorts and low cut shirts… to create a more female aesthetic.’
‘I would say they (gay fans) should refrain from any sexual activities’ – Blatter after being asked about the illegality of homosexuality in Qatar after they won the right to host the 2022 World Cup.
‘I think in football there’s too much modern slavery in transferring players or buying players here and there, and putting them somewhere.’ – Defending the ‘oppressed’ Cristiano Ronaldo after his £80m switch from Manchester United to Real Madrid.
In response to whether football had sexual inequality, he replied: ‘There are gay footballers, but they don’t declare it because it will not be accepted in these macho organizations. Look at women’s football – homosexuality is more popular there.’
‘I have never seen Italy, Germany, Brazil or Argentina with a coach from another country. In fact, most of the best teams have a coach from their own country.’ – Blatter’s response to Fabio Capello’s appointment as England boss.
Blatter’s advice for dealing with racist comments on the pitch?
Asked if he thought there was racism on the pitch, the FIFA president told CNN World Sport: “I would deny it. There is no racism, there is maybe one of the players towards another, he has a word or a gesture which is not the correct one, but also the one who is affected by that, he should say that this is a game. We are in a game, and at the end of the game, we shake hands, and this can happen, because we have worked so hard against racism and discrimination.”
When the deep denial of serious issues comes from the top, how can you expect the subordinates to be serious? Looking at Platini and UEFA, it’s clear you cannot. Faced with a threat of racist supporters at Euro 2012 matches, Italian striker Mario Balotelli stood up for himself and made sure everyone knew he would not stand by and allow fans to racially abuse him.
“If [racism] does happen I would leave the pitch and go home,” said Balotelli. “Racism is unacceptable to me, I cannot bear it. We are in 2012, it can’t happen. If someone throws a banana at me in the street, I will go to prison because I will kill him.”
Platini’s response? Any player who is being abused and leaves the pitch will receive…. a yellow card.
“Platini said: “It’s a yellow card. It’s not a player – Mr Balotelli – who’s in charge of refereeing.”
Platini insists officials will deal with any racist incidents that occur during the tournament, which begins on Friday.
“It’s the referee who takes these decisions. Referees can finish the game. They have this power in case of racism,” Platini told the BBC sports editor David Bond. “That is, I think, the best way to protect the game against racism. The referee has been given advice and he can stop the game if there are problems.”
Of course, Platini completely ignores the fact that just this past February, Balotelli’s club Manchester City filed a complaint with UEFA that the striker had been racially abused in Portugal in a match against Porto. Platini’s response to that incident was to fine Porto €20,000. There is no zero missing there.
You would laugh if you didn’t want to cry.
Also, let me just say Platini has huge balls to criticize racism in the USA as if it were something akin to flying swastikas in Ukraine’s football grounds. Living in the US, it is easy to see the game through a much different lens than most; racism in most sports here was eliminated by watching great players break racial barriers over many decades. And while our churches and communities may still struggle with being fully integrated, our sporting events are clearly the one place where the concept of a meritocracy, vital to our self-conception as a people, is prized above everything else. If you can score touchdowns, it doesn’t matter your skin color. If you can hit home runs, it doesn’t matter from where you come. American fans look at the issues of racism (and its twin, hooliganism) in football and not only shake their heads, but turn off from the game, labeling the permissive, tolerant culture of law enforcement as completely unserious about protecting the rights of fans to enjoy safety at a sporting event.
That is perhaps the most important, unaddressed violation in the game; the culture of fandom in European football is too often completely conceded to a violent minority that bases its existence on its continued access to the game. By stubbornly refusing to take the game out of the hands of supporters who are violent and/or racist, FIFA, UEFA and the national football associations continue to shirk their responsibility to create an environment for all fans to have fun at a football match. Perhaps their is too much money to be made by turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to the problem.
Football needs a long look in the mirror. I hope Balotelli doesn’t have to face any problems. I hope fans of various racial and national backgrounds can enjoy a safe, fun trip to Poland and the Ukraine to support their teams. But it shouldn’t be an issue, and the farcical attempts of the game’s governing bodies to superficially address the issue of racism while counting their Euros behind closed doors is something that shouldn’t be tolerated any more.
I am not sure how the game has come to this, but while FIFA faces down its own corruption scandals, both it and UEFA need to address their moral bankruptcy on the issue of discrimination. The idea that in 2012, a football supporter can walk into a football stadium and hoist a Nazi swastika is an outrage. The fact that fans can make monkey sounds at black players and throw bananas at them is an outrage. The fact that players will be punished if they remove themselves from that kind of an abuse is an outrage. The fact that, all over Europe, police and the game’s overlords cannot figure out a way to make a football stadia safe, fun places for supporters is an outrage. The fact that this has been going on for decades is an outrage.
Beautiful Game Turned Ugly: An ESPN report From 2006. Six Years Ago.
In the past, it has taken the literal death of supporters to force changes to the culture of the game. So, what grievous injury needs to happen now for football to take it’s racism problem seriously?